Mouth of the Klamath River (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Paul Hami)

Tsunami Surge Swept Yurok Descendant, 25, to Sea at Mouth of Klamath River

ICTMN Staff
3/16/11

A 25-year-old man and descendant of the Yurok Tribe was swept out to sea at the mouth of the Klamath River on March 11, reported the Associated Press.

A tsunami surge generated by the earthquake off Japan's coast pulled Dustin Weber into the ocean, and his body is yet to be found. Researchers suspended search efforts after helicopters circled more than 250 square miles, according to KBND.com. He is presumed dead, according to the AP.

"There was a sneaker wave that came down the shoreline," Jon Weber, his father, told the AP. "Some friends of his were down there taking pictures. I think he was expecting the wave to come out of the ocean, but it didn't. It came down the shoreline." 

Official warnings clocked 7:30 a.m. as the time the tsunami would hit the California coast. Weber and his friends did not understand the surges would intensify and continue for hours, his mother, Lori Davis, of Bend, Ore., told the AP.

"He was not looking in the direction it was coming from, but they saw it coming," his mother said. "They tried to run down there and save him. One of the guys almost had him by the shirt. They couldn't save him. They tried to yell for him, but the ocean was too loud."

According to Wendy Malone of the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office, the harbor waters are typically rough. "I can't imagine what it looked like at the mouth," she told OregonLive.com.  People don't know the force of the ocean."

The tragic event would mark the first death of a person on the West Coast by a tsunami since 1964, when a surge caused by an Alaskan earthquake resulted in the deaths of 11 people in nearby Crescent City, according to the AP.

The untimely accident occurred after Weber left Bend, Oregon and his teenage drug abuse for a new life on northern California's rugged coast near his mother's original homeland, the Yurok reservation.

"His life was always challenged with drug issues and being Indian," his mother told the AP after searching the beach for miles for his body with family members and friends.

"One of the things we fight most is drugs and alcohol. He's been clean and sober for a long time. I just feel like, you know, finally he was so happy. He has never been this happy in a long time," she said. "There have been so many times he was so close to death from other issues in his life. You know, it just doesn't make sense to me."

Last Christmas, Weber's mother told him that his grandmother wanted to give him her old house in Klamath, high on the bluff called Requa, with a seaside views of the Pacific and the mouth of the Klamath River.

"He was so happy to come down here to start a new life," his mother told AP. "He got clean and sober. He finished all his community service. Everything he had to do. He had a chance to have his own house. His grandmother—my mother—was going to give him her sister's house. He just beamed when he found out he could have that opportunity. He started working so hard to make that happen."

Despite the end of search efforts, Davis maintains a mother's enduring hope. "I'm really sorry we haven't found his body yet," Davis said. "I'm still thinking there may be a chance he's found alive. I know there's no chance of that. But as a mother, I want to hope there still is a chance."

Weber's friends described his diverse interests to AP. "He liked music, sports cars, motorcycles, car shows," said Blaise Butcher, his friend since childhood. "He liked everything from hip hop and rap to a little bit of classical music."

Butcher cited car wrecks that could have easily taken Weber's life. "I think there were three where he just completely cheated death," said Butcher, recalling a bad crash in 2008 that prompted Weber to become sober.

The family plans to hold a service in Bend in about two weeks, reported KBND.com.

Read more about Weber's life here.

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